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Roundtable: City Redistricting Winners And Losers


Aired 8/26/11

On Wednesday, the San Diego City Council approved new political boundaries for city council districts and added a 9th district. The year-long effort by the Redistricting Commission has changed boundaries and created winners and losers.

On Wednesday, the San Diego City Council approved new political boundaries for city council districts and added a 9th district. It's been almost a year-long effort by the Redistricting Commission and has not been an easy task.

Guests: Will Carless, investigative reporter,

John Warren, editor and publisher, San Diego Voice and Viewpoint

Mark Sauer, senior editor, KPBS News

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This is a rush transcript created by a contractor for KPBS to improve accessibility for the deaf and hard-of-hearing. Please refer to the media file as the formal record of this interview. Opinions expressed by guests during interviews reflect the guest’s individual views and do not necessarily represent those of KPBS staff, members or its sponsors.

PENNER: So this is Friday, and on Wednesday, it was the San Diego City Council -- the San Diego redistricting commission that approved new political boundaries for City Council districts and added a ninth district. And it's been almost a year long effort by the redistricting commission and has not been an easy task. This of course is the midday Roundtable, and I'm Gloria Penner. I'm hey with John Warren. John is the editor and publisher of Voice and Viewpoint. And will car us is here from And he's a reporter. And then we have mark sour who's the senior editor for the KPBS radio and television and the web. So John, before we get into where the difficulties were in terms of why the controversies and why all the wrestling that went on with redistricting, just layout for us why the city's districts had to be reconfigured.


WARREN: Well, we have 100 and 24 neighborhoods, redistricting taking place at the state level, the county level, and at the city. And at the city, it was compounded because of the census where there were changes. But we also had a situation where the City Council added a ninth district. In adding that, it had to realign the districts, take from districts in order to make district nine work. So they took pieces from districts three, four, seven, and eight to create this new district nine. And that created a lot of cop fusion in terms of who would gain, who would lose, and come communities would be different. What members might have to move in terms of future representation. How would they be represented between now and the time that the new member actually runs for office and is elected. That, issue was resolved by the city attorney who made the observation that although there's a requirement 30†days after the adoption, that that is really stayed until after the election so that the inauguration will take place in 2012. Members will continue representing the people they're representing until such time as that new election. There's quite a bit within here within each district, the gains, losses, the ones who are happy, the ones who are unhappy, the Asians wanting, the Latinos wanting, African American concern, racial issues, national boundaries.

PENNER: With all this going on, I must ask our listeners, were you aware of the fact that what was going on in the City of San Diego was kind of a wrestling match in order to position the new districts and create a whole new look for some of the districts and then create this ninth district as well? And how important was this in, if not your daily life, your monthly life? Our number is 1-888-895-5727. This is a huge responsibility.

SAUER: Well, it is, and it's one of those things where the average person probably doesn't think a lot about it, but it certainly can impact them. As far as the ninth district, which actually encompasses -- we're sitting here on the campus of San Diego state. We'll have a story from Katie Orr this afternoon that Marty Emerald now has announced she's going to be the first candidate.

PENNER: In the new ninth district.

SAUER: Right. And we had a story recently, and she's had some personal troubles and moved and sold her house. So she'll be the first candidate in the new ninth district, which will be more democratic than the seventh district that she currently represents. So it's an interesting jumble. And John was looking to some of the battle up there, the real friction it appears is among the Rancho Penasquitos folk looking down their noses at the Mira Mesans and --

PENNER: Explain that. This sounds more like class warfare than anything else.

SAUER: Is that too strong to call it.


WARREN: No, it is. I think when you put Scripps Ranch into the picture, that's where the warfare really kicks in. PeÒasquitos has a very strong Asian population, and they don't want to be divided. So you've got Rancho Bernardo and all these communities have been somewhat elite. Some are playing the card, if we have a disaster, we don't know who to hear from. So it is a class war and a race issue as well.

CARLESS: I love that Rancho Bernardo was like if you split us in half, half of us will be aligned with Mira Mesa, which is completely socioeconomically different. So their idea was I think you should split Scripps Ranch in half instead, which is kind of like -- those areas are so similar.

PENNER: But will, the dialogue was more about race.

CARLESS: Sure. It's not supposed to be though, is it?

PENNER: Well, the federal law says that race should not be a factor.

CARLESS: I find that just extraordinary. In reading all of this stuff, it comes down to race so often in terms of certain racial groups wanting representation. Then it's sort of this thing that we're not supposed to talk about it. And it just seems a bit asinine really.

PENNER: How important is it to you that race or ethnic communities be represented on the City Council? Why should there be ethnic diversity on the City Council? And that's a question for you. 1-888-895-5727. John?

WARREN: Well, yes, it's a contradiction because the voting rights act, while it speaks of race in terms of not being an exclusive factor, race is certainly a factor in equipping compatible communities. And we saw in the instance of District 6 and eight where we could have a Latino African American unity factor, if you will, to create a homogeneous district. So race is a factor, community compatibility, natural boundaries that come into play, all of these things. And there was great concern because there's been no Asian representation. People have been lobbying for years. Now we have an opportunity to create an environment where we can have an Asian representative. And we have people within the Asian communities saying, no, we don't want to be split.

PENNER: So let me ask you about that, mark. Will the new district lines guarantee that there will be Asian representation on the council after the next election?

SAUER: Well, it seems like a class half full situation. It appears better than before, and the complaints here have been founded and long standing. It remains to be seen who runs and who gets through the primaries and what it means. I wonder if it's -- as a long time city resident and homeowner myself, you don't think a lot perhaps of what district you're in, and what it means and who else is lumped in with you. I wonder if it comes down to schools. Of the Poway schools have this great representation, it affects property values. And is it more an image thing related to the value of your home, the school district you're in, what neighborhood you're part of rather than even a function of the city government? What do you think?

CARLESS: It's interesting because I like to think of myself as a fairly plugged in individual in terms of what's going on politically in our city. And as far as whether I'm concerned about getting representation, I live in district one, and it's like -- it doesn't affect my life.

PENNER: Do you know who your counsel member is?

CARLESS: Sure I do.

SAUER: But how many of your neighbors actually do?

CARLESS: I doubt many of them do. But the point is, like, it really doesn't affect my life very much. If I'm honest, going forwards, it really doesn't make any difference to me.

PENNER: So you're not one of those people who when you have a pot hole in front of your house, you will call your council member and expect action?

CARLESS: I might, but who that council member is or what district they represent or what race they are doesn't matter.

SAUER: There's a ton of folks who have said, I'm amazed, because I never called a council district and expected any help at all. But a lot of people certainly do.

PENNER: Laura, you're on with the journalists.

NEW SPEAKER: I just have a real simple question. And it's probably been addressed and I just missed it. But I live in PeÒasquitos, and we're part of the Poway unified school district. The -- everybody in Mira Mesa and south of San Diego unified, how is that going to affect voting when you're voting on school issues, district issues?

WARREN: I guess that's a good question, the way school districts are currently handled. We have the county board, school districts that are not the same as council managed districts. And virtually no place because it's by design that they're different so you'd still follow the same pattern of whatever you're doing now for schools in terms of the Poway school district is what you would do. That wouldn't be altered by this.

SAUER: Right, the school, generally they're separate. You'll have some joint school issues. For example, you'll have a school field where the city and the schools which are separate will enter into a joint agreement, maintain build a school field, then the community can use it for soccer. And the school outside of school hours. But they're basically separate political entities, the cities and the schools. Whatever district you're in.

PENNER: Our number is 1-888-895-5727. We're talking about the new political map for the City of San Diego. And what implications are, and the great amount of controversy that was stirred, including lobbying by culturally separate ethnic groups. And we're wondering about the impact of that on what the district is going to look like and who's going to represent all of the districts. Again, 1-888-895-5727. We have a call now from Darshana in Rancho PeÒasquitos.

NEW SPEAKER: Hi. I wanted to make a comment and ask a question also. The comment is that during this redistricting effort. It's been going on a year but a lot of us in Rancho PeÒasquitos didn't even know about it. If we were paying attention we probably would have voiced our community opinion a lot sooner. So in the next round when the council takes that commission, I think this really needs to be much more public and much more notice needs to be put out.

PENNER: That's ten years from now, so hopefully we'll all be here and woe can put our $0.02 in about making it more public. What about that, will? You're a were the are. Was the process for selecting the redistricting commission and notifying the residents kind of secret?

CARLESS: I'm hardly an expert on this issue. I can only know from what I've read in the media. I think it's not so much -- I think it's a twofold problem. It's a fairly wonky issue that certain people aren't going to be interested for a start. But secondly, it's complicated. It's very complicated when you get down to the nitty-gritty details. And I think as soon as things start to get complicated, fewer people get involved. I think it ramped up in terms of public attention over the last few weeks, certainly.


WARREN: The burden is really on the communities upon there was great notice in terms of this. There was great discussion, there were hearings all oaf. More so with the county or any other entity. Extensive maps and preparations went to some. They even brought in council from Arizona, specialized in discussing the voting rights act in relationship to this.

SAUER: And how many residents showed up?

WARREN: There were quite a few residents at these meetings. In PeÒasquitos, there were residents who showed up, but they were obviously people who organized around their interests. The Asian communities had an interest, so they organized. It's all been in the media, and as far as the process is concerned, that's notice and due process.

PENNER: John, how important are these influences, let's say, on the commission? Not all the influences on redistricts were tied to ethnicity for example, the gay and lesbian community was involved in trying to influence the decision making. The connection between these communities that had some self interest and the commission itself.

WARREN: Well, that's a very important question. For instance, some people have said that Todd Gloria represents an Asian ethnicity representative from district three. And yet Gloria is openly gay and was a strong advocate for the gay community. And so that gets to be an important factor. But you have to go all the way back to how this process worked. With three retired judges that select said these people, they weren't voted in. So that in itself has always raised some questions in terms of the process of who ends up there and how they got there and, who they're actually accountable to as volunteers. And they weren't elected to do this process. So the city has to consider perhaps amending the charter if people want something different. Human nature being what it is, most people will not look at this again until in my opinion years from now.

PENNER: Let's take a call from Suzanne in San Diego. You're on with the journalists.

NEW SPEAKER: Thank you very much for taking my call I'm actually a native San Diegan. I went away to Sacramento for a year, and I'm back in town for the last several months. I was surprised and very confused as to why we even need a ninth council district. San Diego is having financial problem, we got to hire more people. This whole process seems like eight council members should be sufficient.

PENNER: Let's get an answer.

NEW SPEAKER: And I don't think race, ethnicity should play a role.

PENNER: Well, the federal law does ban race from being a primary factor. But there was open lobbying for this.

WARREN: There are several factors. We went from a weak mayor to a strong mayor form of government. And I've always said that the big I mistake made with those people who made the amendments to the charter, they should not have added a ninth district. They should have added an at large member. If they added an at large member, that would have maintained the eight districts and given that person authority. They should have moved to make the president of the counsel an elected entity. San Diego did none of that. And that's why we have this confusion because people are making decisions without knowledge.


WARREN: I said it on this program over the past three or 4†years. No one studied how a strong mayor form of government works, representation, or other city models and as a political scientist, I brought the suggestion to the table, we need to look at other places rather than just creating something. We didn't do that. We just listened to one or two people, stuck our favorite people in there to make amendments.

PENNER: When you say we, that's the universal we or --

WARREN: The universal we being the people at city hall, those who selected that committee that does the charter review. The charter review commission is never representative of the people because those members are not elected by the people. They're all appointed so much there's a guarantee that we keep the status quo.

PENNER: Here's something for you, marc. The city has become more diverse and democratic, meaning there are more Democrats in the last ten years sense the last sensus. Won't we see automatically more people of color and more Democrats on the council as a natural result of these charging demographics?

SAUER: Oddly enough just before we went on the air, I added a story from Katie Orr, who was talking about the political analyst Carl Luna saying this is going to balance off the City Council in favor of the Republicans as he sees it. There's some speculation involved looking ahead. But counterintuitively, yes, the city through voter registration is becoming and has been for several years more democratic. And yet you're gonna go from a three five split to probably a four five Republican democratic split almost even, obviously with the odd numbers.

PENNER: How long will that last? I'm looking, let's say between now and the next census.

SAUER: That's a good question. And then the Republicans themselves looking around the country and certainly other places, we have far more moderate Republicans. So it's very fluid. It changes, and it changes election to election and midterm to midterm.

PENNER: So no matter what the composition of the districts are, it will change.

SAUER: Change is good.

PENNER: Yes. I've heard that before. Will?

CARLESS: With you two guys who obviously know a lot about this in the room, but this issue of Asian American representation on the City Council, is there much history of Asian Americans running for City Council in this city and not winning? Is there --


WARREN: No, there isn't. But you have to look at the culture. Asian Americans until recently, with one or two exceptions in the state have not run for office because culturally they've stayed outside of the political stream. We have generations that are born and raised here and are not afraid to get involved in the process. But many Asians come from communities where there was great danger in terms of being governmentally connected or involved. So we have a cultural change that's taking place, not a lack of willing business. They have the finance, the smarts, the ability. And they are now beginning to exercise that with a sense of freedom.

PENNER: I think the bottom line on all of this, John, is do you believe that ethnic communities will automatically vote for someone of the same ethnicity? I think that's what it comes down to.

SAUER: Or if they're Mira Mesa.

WARREN: History says that's something that happens in the beginning in many instances. But it does not follow long range. Over a period of time, when the novelty wears off, people begin to vote for the best person, regardless of what they look like. That's more likely to happen in California than it would be in the south because of how liberal people are here.

PENNER: Well, we will move on. We're going to take a break first. And then we're going to talk about a new public awareness campaign that's begun. How to identify terrorism and terrorists in your neighborhood. And what's the point of such a campaign? Is it a good use of the public's money? Could there be some unintended consequences? This is midday Roundtable. I'm Gloria Penner.

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